Kevin B. Comeau runs a funeral home on Main Street that bears his name, and though that may make him seem like a traditionalist, he's not because this funeral director will do whatever it takes to help the families he serves.
"In the past 'old school' clients would come to funeral homes and directors would tell them how they were going to memorialize their family member, in terms of what they were going to get for types of services," Comeau said. "The new school, of which I am a part, is with new generations coming in and taking care of their parents. My clients tell me what they want, so I customize what their required needs are for personalization of funeral services."
"I am a director, and I do direct, but I also listen to what their needs are. I don't think everything is cookie cutter ... as form of tradition as it used to be. I am here to please the family or to take care of a family's needs."
Needs differ family to family.
"I think it's different on a case by case basis," Comeau said. "We still have traditional funerals, but with cremation options, and different memorializations for loved ones."
Keeping up with technology has also served Comeau's business well, he said.
"I was the first one to come out with a Web site in Haverhill," Comeau said. "And I was the first one to come out with DVD memorialization for families. Families would bring in picture boards, but I gather those pictures and put them on DVDs and do a slide presentation. I think I am keeping up with the times by combining new technology with old traditions and what comes out is a nice memorialization for the family."
Comeau runs the slideshow during the wake on a 42-inch flat screen television mounted on a wall. People watch it as they stand in line to pay their respects. When the wake and funeral are over, the family is given the DVD to bring home. Funeral director Jerome "Jerry" Ryan makes the DVDs for him.
Comeau knows his job is a timeless one.
"If you stop and think about this, the funeral business, us as humans taking care of the dead, hasn't changed in 3,000 years," Comeau said. "Ancient Egyptians would embalm — they invented it. They would memorialize with hieroglyphics and tombs. In the large picture, as much as things change, they do basically stay the same. The basic need is to memorialize, and I can't really see a way of changing that."
Comeau keeps up to speed on trends within his centuries-old industry.
"People are always concerned that cemeteries are going to become filled up," said Comeau, before dismissing that it would ever happen in his lifetime.
"Cremation saves space, but then you have people shooting cremated remains up into space. There is a company in Houston, Texas, that propels (remains) up into space, and also a company that can take cremated remains and turn them into a diamond."
Comeau said no one has come into his business and requested these new-age services yet.
"I like to think (that) for myself, keeping up with times means being prepared for any type of funeral service a family might have an idea about, and to customize their needs," said Comeau.
Comeau has worked as a funeral director for 21 years, but this is his seventh year owning his own business. The Haverhill native had previously worked for a business owned by his brother in Clinton, and commuted daily.
Comeau bought the former Power-O'Connor funeral home and this year they are celebrating the 140 years the building has been a funeral home.
"I owe the success of my business to my wife, family and staff, which has grown tremendously, and the people in the community who have supported me and trusted me in this business," Comeau said.
Comeau values his work, even when those who come in to make arrangements don't understand how valuable it is.
"People come in to prearrange for their own deaths because they don't want to be a burden to their families when they pass. They say they don't want a wake...and they want to be cremated. I have to tell them that wakes are not for the dead, they're for the living. They think about it for a minute and say 'Oh my goodness.'"
And Comeau is meticulous about the wording of obituaries.
"An obituary it so important. I write it and give it to the family for review before I submit it to newspapers because sometimes it the only time that person will be in the paper their entire life. It recognizes that person was here and meant something," Comeau said.
Comeau said that although cremation has been done for over a hundred years, it only became popular among the masses about 20 years ago when it was recognized by the Catholic church.
"At first people chose it because it was less expensive, but now due to the demand, the cost of cremation has risen just as high as a traditional burial. It's achieved balance," said Comeau.
Comeau, a third generation Haverhill native, was working in the plummeting high tech industry when his brother invited him to join him in his business. Comeau, who accepted his brother's offer, believes he is finally doing the job he was destined for. He knows he and his brother are comfortable with death due to many tragedies in their youth.
They lost their brother, Thomas Comeau, at the age of 17, in a car crash on Middle Road in Haverhill. Kevin was 13 when it happened.
"In the '70s there were lots of car wrecks ... kids we knew personally ... (whom we) played with as kids," said Comeau. "It was like we were plagued with death and it became familiar to us."